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Enid Lyons

Constantly involved in official duties as prime ministerial wife, in servicing the Wilmot electorate, and in party campaigning, Enid Lyons was the most able and most committed prime ministerial wife in Australian political history. In her view, there was no boundary between political work and community work. She observed that the enfranchisement of women had brought human issues onto the political agenda around the world.

The prime ministerial family at The Lodge in 1938

The prime ministerial family at The Lodge in 1938.

By permission National Library of Australia.

When Enid Lyons became prime ministerial wife she was aged 33, and the mother of eleven children. In 1933, their last child, Janice Mary, became the second child born to a prime ministerial family in Australia (James Fisher was the first).

Dame Enid Lyons at The Lodge

Dame Enid Lyons at The Lodge on 24 October 1934, with the Prime Minister and Prince Henry, the Duke of Gloucester during the royal tour for the Victorian centenary celebrations.

NAA: A1861, 6590

Despite these demands, Enid Lyons took on a busy official role between 1932 and 1939. With her large family divided between The Lodge in Canberra, school in Melbourne and the family home in Devonport, Tasmania, she travelled constantly to meetings, speaking engagements, and managed a family spread across three states. Enid Lyons observed that one period of five weeks was the longest time she had managed to remain at The Lodge. In 1935 the Lyons went to England for the jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary. On their second official visit in 1937, for the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, she was made a Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire.

Four years after Lyons’ death, Dame Enid Lyons became the first woman in the House of Representatives when she won the seat of Darwin (later Braddon) in 1943, during the Curtin government. She remained in parliament until 1951, becoming the first woman in Cabinet when she was appointed Vice-President of the Executive Council in the Menzies government in 1949.

From 1951 to 1962 Dame Enid Lyons served as a member of the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

Dame Enid Lyons and Tamie Fraser at The Lodge

Former prime ministerial wife Dame Enid Lyons returns to The Lodge forty years later to present Tamie Fraser with an addition to the Australiana collection, July 1979.

NAA: A6180, 2/7/79/5

In 1980 she was made Dame in the Order of Australia and the following year, aged 84, she died at her Devonport home.

Sources

Langmore, Diane, Prime Ministers’ Wives: The Public and Private Lives of Ten Australian Women, McPhee Gribble, Ringwood, Victoria, 1992.

Lyons, Enid, So We Take Comfort, William Heinemann, Melbourne, 1965.

White, Kate, Joseph Lyons, Prime Minister of Australia 1932–1939, Black Inc., Melbourne, 2000.

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